Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. No holiday gift for MIL: My husband and I have been married for 12 years, and a couple years ago I realized all the gift shopping was on me. I told him I’d keep doing our kids and my side of the family, but he needed to start buying gifts for his side. I continued to remind him to buy gifts though, until this year when I decided not to do that anymore either. So this year my mother-in-law, who celebrates with us, did not get a gift, while my parents and brother did (they also celebrate with us, but on a different occasion than my mother-in-law).
I feel bad because I truly like my mother-in-law. Then again, my husband is a full-grown man, and all I’m asking is that he remembers one gift. I do all the rest. Help me out here. Do I stick to my guns, and if my mother-in-law doesn’t get a gift then so be it? Or do I relent and add her gift back to my to-do list? We have the same issue when it comes to my mother-in-law’s birthday and Mother’s Day. My husband does not have a more taxing job than me, or any mental issues that make remembering to purchase gifts harder.
A: I’m so sorry that you’re in this position! I wonder, what did your husband do for birthdays, Christmas, and Mother’s Day before he got married? I don’t think you should start buying for his side of the family again, but I do think it’s worth revisiting with him: “I’m frustrated and embarrassed that you forgot to buy your mother a present for the holidays this year, especially because we all opened gifts together. I’ve bought gifts for her and reminded you to do it, and the one year I asked you to be responsible for it, she didn’t have a gift. I know you’re a capable, intelligent adult and that this isn’t beyond your abilities. I really like your mother, and it makes me sad to celebrate the holidays with her knowing you haven’t written her a card or picked her up a small present to acknowledge her presence. What do you think is keeping you from being able to get this done? What do you think needs to change in order for something different to happen in time for the next holiday that doesn’t rely on my just doing it for you?”